Starting points

Led by a military brass band and with some 3,000 people trailing in his wake, Sir Ian Botham began his Big Sri Lanka Walk in a manner as conspicuous as it was colourful.

Last Updated: 01/11/13 at 13:46 Post Comment

Three kilometres from the start line in Kilinochchi, the 300 national flag bearers on parade - many of them military personnel - were already struggling to keep their ranks aligned, stretched by Botham's punchy pace.

While other walkers wilted in the intense heat reflecting off the smooth tarmac, the Sky Sports commentator - sporting customised fluorescent lime green trainers - pressed on, pausing only to have his photograph taken in front of plans for a local community project.

And a little under four hours and 29km later in Mankulam, Botham gratefully touched the finish line banner and sank into a leather armchair at the cricket ground, where scores of people were awaiting his arrival.

There, just as at the very start of the day in Kilinochchi, the opening rounds of the Murali Harmony Cup - a five-day school cricket competition - were about to commence.

Earlier in the morning Botham had officially opened the tournament alongside Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene after receiving a cricket-bat guard of honour by players from four of the 20 teams competing - Trinity College, Kilinochchi Schools, Seenigama and Trinco-Batti Schools.

Fittingly, the first match on the new cricket pitch saw Kilinochchi take on Seenigama, areas where the Foundation for Goodness has set up projects to rebuild regions blighted by civil war and the 2004 Tsunami Disaster respectively.

Integrate

After the toss Jayawardene explained why he has spent the last five weeks training to take part in the first leg of the trek.

"I think this is great for Sri Lanka, especially up in the north," he said. "We are a health conscious country so something like this gives a good message, plus it contributes a lot to the community as well - so that's the whole idea.

"This part of the country was torn by 30 years of war; we've been playing cricket picking up talent wherever possible and now we've got a bigger pond to fish from and that's what we're trying to do, to integrate through cricket and give these players an opportunity so that hopefully five to 10 years down the line one of the guys will try and represent Sri Lanka.

"That would be fantastic; it is a great, great thing that sport can unite people and something like this - Sir Ian coming up and doing this walk - you can see the crowds turning up. It's a great boost."

This, though - as Botham is only too well aware - is just the start, both of an arduous eight days and the Foundation's longer-term vision of rebuilding shattered communities across the country.

Looking forward to plunging his feet into some ice-cold water, Botham said: "It's been a great start - come on the rest of Sri Lanka, match it!"

To donate to the cause visit www.justgiving.com/BeefysSriLankaWalk or for more information visit www.beefysbigsrilankawalk.com

Check out a gallery of Beefy's walks here.

Check out Beefy's itinerary here.

You can follow Botham's progress on Sky Sports News, online with skysports.com and on your Ipad. To donate to Beefy's fund-raising effort simply visit www.justgiving.com/BeefysSriLankaWalk

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